Five associate ministers accept spiritual call
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- A state representative and his mother will become full-fledged ministers Sunday during a ceremony at Bethel Community Baptist Church.
All told, three men and two women will be ordained in the evening service. They have been preaching and studying for several years, but the ordination confers on each the title of "the reverend" or "elder" and gives each the right to head a church, officiate at the Lord's Supper and perform baptisms, marriages and funerals.
"I'm really looking forward to it," state Rep. Frank Peterman said of Sunday's ceremony.
Peterman will be ordained with his mother, Peggy, a retired editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times, Inella Paris, Brent Brown and Robert Vinson.
"I am supposed to be preaching that Sunday morning and I am going to be ordained that night," Frank Peterman said.
"It's a double honor."
As Sunday approaches, his mother is reflecting on what her late mother would think.
"I believe she would be very excited. I believe she would be very proud," Ms. Peterman said.
Sunday's ordination will be the second major service, apart from Easter, to be held at Bethel Community's new $1.5-million, 14,400-square-foot facility at 2901 54th Ave. S. The Rev. Manuel Sykes, pastor of the church, this week explained the steps that led to ordination in his Baptist community.
"Basically, what happens when a person is called into the ministry, they begin a process of training. They get on-the-job experience and at the same time, they should be completing some academic preparation," Sykes said.
"Once they complete a certain amount of academic and theological training and have demonstrated to the pastor that they are both equipped and dedicated to handling themselves, then they become ordained."
At Bethel Community, which belongs to the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International Inc., one can be a minister without being ordained. Ordination gives a minister additional responsibilities and privileges and implies, Sykes said, that a person is "considered capable of representing the faith."
The five candidates for ordination are among Bethel Community's 14 associate ministers.
A key element of Sunday's ceremony will be the laying of hands, a symbolic passing of the ministry of Jesus' apostles, Sykes said. Participating in this part of the ceremony will be several ministers, including the Rev. Wayne Thompson of First Baptist Institutional Church, who also will preach the evening's sermon.
For the candidates, this weekend's service will culminate a journey that for some, began with a startling spiritual call.
"I was on a fast and (God) just spoke to my spirit that you are now called to the ministry," church secretary Inella Paris, 42, said.
"It wasn't something that I was expecting," said Peterman, 39, who is running for re-election this fall.
"I had said that if it happened to me, I wanted it to be a supernatural experience and it was that."
As Peterman recalls it, his call to the ministry occurred about seven years ago. He had invited his mother, in-laws and some friends to his home to pray for a safe and successful pregnancy for his wife, June.
"I walked out on my porch and I happened to look outside into several trees. A very clear voice and a very small but strong voice said, 'Preach my word.' . . . It happened throughout the entire day," said Peterman, who has three children and another on the way.
Peterman said he received confirmation of his call the following day, when for an unknown reason he decided to attend Sunday service at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church instead of Bethel Community. There, the Rev. Wilkins Garrett, then the church's pastor, turned to the section of the sanctuary where he was sitting and said that someone had been called to preach. After the service, Peterman drove to his mother's home.
"I was crying like a baby," he said.
He told his mother what had taken place.
"As soon as I confessed with another believer that I had been called, my chest literally opened and something was deposited in the center of my chest and I started sweating. My legs were weak," he said.
"I later found out in my reading and studying, it was the anointing of God."
His mother's journey to the ministry was not quite as dramatic.
"I accepted my call in '98," she said.
"Most of the time, there's a distinct call from the Lord. It's actually spiritually audible. I received one when I was 12 years old. . . . And then I had another one as a married woman with two young children and I fought it and fought it and fought it," said Ms. Peterman, 65.
More recently, the call came again while she was in her prayer room, the grandmother of four said.
"I tried to ward it off and received a message that I have called you and I have called you before. So I proceeded on my knees to explain to the Holy Spirit that I was old now," said Ms. Peterman, whose other child, John, also is a minister.
Last month, Ms. Peterman and the candidates for Sunday's ordination completed an oral examination by a panel of pastors.
"It's an accomplishment," said Ms. Paris, who comes from a family of ministers.
"I was a nervous wreck. My hands and feet were sweating. Afterwards, when we got the word that we all passed, it was like, 'What's next, God? What's the next stage?' "
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